Local soccer fans will be spoiled this summer with several Lane United FC matches at the Willamalane Center as well as the July 24 International Champions Cup match between Paris Saint-Germain and F.C. Internazionale Milano, to be played in Autzen Stadium.
And yet, if Eugene soccer fans are as passionate about the beautiful game as I am, they might be most excited about the Copa América, to be hosted in the U.S. for the first time in its long and influential history, with the closest matches being played in Seattle and Santa Clara, California.
An important precursor to the world’s greatest sporting event (the FIFA World Cup) and often referred to and revered as the oldest continental soccer tournament of national teams, the Copa América is coming to this country in celebration of its 100-year anniversary.
In 1916, Argentina celebrated 100 years of independence and the Asociación Argentina de Football invited the national soccer associations from neighboring countries to send teams to play in a tournament to be called the Campeonato Sudamericano de Fútbol, later named the Copa América. Precisely on Argentina’s 100th Independence Day, July 9, 1916, the four participating associations (from Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay) approved the proposal presented by the Uruguayan association to form the Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol (CONMEBOL) — 38 years before its European equivalent (UEFA) and 45 before the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF).
In 1975, the tournament became officially titled Copa América, and CONMEBOL first invited teams from the North (initially Mexico and the U.S., allowing for three groups of four teams) to participate in the 1993 Copa América in Ecuador.
This year, the Copa América Centenario will have four groups of four teams (10 CONMEBOL teams and six CONCACAF teams) playing 32 matches in 10 U.S. cities. Five of the teams are currently included in FIFA’s top ten men’s world ranking: Argentina (no. 1); Chile (no. 3); Colombia (no. 4); Brazil (no. 7); and Uruguay (no. 9). Many of the world’s most talented players will be competing. This should make for some very good soccer. And, with or without the great fortune of actually attending a match, at least we’ll be able to watch on TV at more convenient hours than is the case for many FIFA World Cups.
While attending the last Copa América in Chile, I picked up in Santiago some old sports magazines, one of which (Estadio, No. 142) contains a description of the 1946 tournament that I hope may fairly characterize the Copa América Centenario: “The tournament progresses, and as the emotion that springs from it gains ground in the heart and the spirit of the fans who follow its possibilities with an extraordinary enthusiasm, those competitors who are most qualified, those who surely will sustain, in the epilogue of this memorable jousting, the decisive battle for possession of the privileged position, are shaping up with distinct characteristics.”
Regardless of who ultimately possesses the privileged position of winning the Copa América Centenario, plenty of emotion and enthusiasm should spring from this historic tournament, while strengthening the fraternal bonds of soccer lovers throughout America in its broadest sense, from Alaska to Patagonia.
If nothing else, fans should delight in the creative genius of Lionel Messi, who will be playing his first (and perhaps only) competitive soccer matches on U.S. soil — including Seattle on June 14 — and has yet to lift a major trophy for Argentina, and the goal-scoring madness of Luis Suarez, who will be doing his best to extend Uruguay’s lead as the country with the most Copa América titles.
For more details about this exciting soccer tournament to be played June 3-26, including information about ticket sales, see ca2016.com. The U.S. team plays Colombia on June 3 (in Santa Clara), Costa Rica on June 7 (in Chicago) and Paraguay on June 11 (in Philadelphia). For those who want to see Messi in the flesh, he should be playing against Bolivia in Seattle on June 14.